10:24 Wednesday 25th November 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
PAUL STAINTON: So it’s official this morning. The confirmation has come through. The final site of Peterborough City Council’s big solar park dream scrapped. Councillors have confirmed that plans for America Farm won’t now go ahead, alongside Morris Fen and Newborough which have already bitten the dust. It’s the end of the whole project, which has cost the people of Peterborough over £3 million. In return they’ve got diddly squat. So bad news. And there could be even worse news for people in Whittlesey. Remember two supermarkets fighting over the chance to open a big supermarket in Whittlesey? Well we understand there’s a possibility that the whole Sainsbury’s development, the winners in this struggle, might now be pulled. Let’s speak to John Elworthy. He’s Editor of many Cambridgeshire newspapers. It’s easier to say that John than list them all I think.
JOHN ELWORTHY: Good morning Paul. The one that applies here is our Cambs Times paper that obviously has been covering the Whittlesey saga, let’s call it that, for the past four or five years since it all broke when there were two rival developers coming forward. I’m not actually sure at the moment whether the scheme needs a pathologist to examine the dead corpse or a heart surgeon to see if it’s still alive, or a nurse to tend it back to health. I think we’re certainly at the heart surgeon stage, and there is a real possibility that it will be a pathologist report that is required on a scheme that one has seen go through all sorts of phases and turns over the years. But I think the people of Whittlesey are beginning to lose hope in anything substantial happening to this scheme, at least for the foreseeable future, if at all.
PAUL STAINTON: It was dubbed ‘Supermarketgate’ by your good self years ago it seems now.
JOHN ELWORTHY: Not without good reason.
PAUL STAINTON: And it was Tesco versus Sainsburys, and then there was Fenland District Council in the middle mucking it all up basically.
JOHN ELWORTHY: Yes. And there were councillors being ousted from the Planning Committee by the then Leader who himself since has gone from the scene, Alan Melton. There were all sorts of people, and I sat through committee after committee after committee as this fandango continued. Where we are now is quite simple. Sainsburys secured a viable planning proposition on that site in Eastrea Road. Of that there was no doubt. They then, having got the permission this year, decided that they needed an amendment made. So everybody was a bit startled by this. They wanted to have for example delivery drivers arriving through the night. This is home delivery. They wanted a facility for home deliveries, and they said unless we get this we’re not going to go ahead with the scheme. We needed some improvements then to the access. Unless we get those the thing can’t go ahead. And so of course they then reapplied. There was some more consultation. And right at the last moment, which is the deadline when the developer .. because you have to remember there are lots of landowners involved in this, and Sainsburys don’t own what you might call diddly squat yet in Whittlesey .. just at the very moment that the contract could have technically legally expired, Fenland District Council pulled out every conceivable stop known to mankind to ensure that whatever Sainsburys wanted they got, twenty four hours before it was all due to finish. End of story you’d think. Sainsburys are committed. They’ve got the contract in place and all the rest of it. No. Not as simple as that. They’re known to have told the people of Whittlesey in letters that I’ve seen that it’s too late for this coming building spree, building land for 2016/17. Then on the other hand they’re saying they still need some more planning issues sorted out which they say they need due to highways. County Council are not aware of any of these issues that are unresolved. And then of course they go into the bit about the fact that they got in full, the words that they used it was a ‘fully approved planning application’ from their own mouth. And in the next breath they’re saying well of course the world has changed since we first started this project.
PAUL STAINTON: Aaah.
JOHN ELWORTHY: People’s habits have changed and all the rest of it. And that’s the crunch key. So I think where the people of Whittlesey are, they are now lobbying in their droves. They’re by-passing all the people that have been quoted in letters like a ‘Head of Property Communications.’ What a great title Mr David Mills has at Sainsburys. He’s trying to be the middle man in all of this. But the former Mayor David Mason, lots of other people in Whittlesey, have gone straight for the jugular, gone for the Chief Executive of Sainsburys. You promised us ..
PAUL STAINTON: You fought Tescos. You wanted it. You wanted to run them out of town.
JOHN ELWORTHY: And I think where we are at the moment is that the chances of it happening probably one in a hundred. As low as that. I would suggest the likelihood of ending up in court .. because don ‘t forget if they have a contractual obligation to build this thing, then there is a lot of money, there’s a lot of aspirations, particularly with the people who have already set up a Country Park Committee.
PAUL STAINTON: How much money do you think has been spent on this over the four years?
JOHN ELWORTHY: In excess of a million. Well in excess of a million.
PAUL STAINTON: So there’s a million gone south there. Three and a half million in Peterborough. There’s a lot of public money sloshing about to be spent on stuff.
JOHN ELWORTHY: Well there’s a lot of it. If you do these grandiose schemes that have all gone strangely wrong this morning, that one is slightly different from the Peterborough one. You were talking about local government money and this is the private sector finance that’s been involved in all this. But Fenland themselves of course have put in a lot. Fenland District Council have exhausted their reservoirs of officer time.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes, and they must have spent money on solicitors and everything else.
JOHN ELWORTHY: Yes. probably some they will have got back through the planning process, but quite a lot, because you remember they had to go to a judicial review of the original planning application, because the disaffected members of the Tesco branch of Supermarketgate, they decided to go to court. And there was a lengthy court case, a lengthy court process, to establish it. So yes, lots of money has been spent. I don’t think you can blame truthfully .. this is not Fenland District council. There may have been some political manoeuvring and some wranglings which are well documented in the Supermarketgate archives of our newspaper.
PAUL STAINTON: I was looking this morning on the internet. (THEY LAUGH) There is entry after entry on the internet labelled Supermarketgate.
JOHN ELWORTHY: But in the final stage ..
PAUL STAINTON: It’s not funny though is it?
JOHN ELWORTHY: ..,. Fenland District Council came good.
PAUL STAINTON: But it’s not funny is it? We’re laughing, but it’s not funny, because the people of Whittlesey are .. it looks like .. are not going to get any supermarket.
JOHN ELWORTHY: Well I think Whittlesey people need to ask some questions. They’re getting loads of houses. Some very controversial schemes have been approved there in recent times. And even Sainsburys in their recent letters, ‘Well we know you need it, because you’ve got all this booming housing going one.’ We’ve got all this stuff that’s going on for the economy etcetera. They also need a Kings Dyke level crossing bridge.
PAUL STAINTON: Well that’s been promised. Martin Curtis promised that on this show, so we know that’s coming, isn’t it?
JOHN ELWORTHY: Well where is it? It’s slightly delayed. Reading through the documents of the County Council, the finances are not 100% certainly still there.
PAUL STAINTON: Are the people of Whittlesey being left behind here? Are they being left behind by everybody?
JOHN ELWORTHY: Yes of course they are. If you go to Whittlesey it’s been a gripe of theirs since Noah was a boy, that they are the poor relation. I think it’s the proximity to Peterborough, and the fact that over the years many of the positions of power and influence if you like when the Fenland District Council came together in the early ’70s, they got absorbed by non-Whittlesey people. And it’s their distance. Wisbech gets all the attention, according to most people, not that that’s necessarily so. But March has certainly had a lot of attention, and Chatteris. There’s a sort of synergy between March Wisbech and Chatteris, where we’ve got lots of amenities that Whittlesey just simply hasn’t got.
PAUL STAINTON: A poor relation left behind John.
JOHN ELWORTHY: Well if they were to declare UDI tomorrow I’m not sure that that would be an effective remedy. After listening to what you’ve been talking about Peterborough this morning and the £3 million that has been wasted on renewable energy sources, would they want to merge with Peterborough?
PAUL STAINTON: Possibly not. I don’t think so. John, we’ve got to leave it there. John Elworthy, runs a string of papers right across Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire Times, Wisbech Standard, Ely Standard and others, and saying that there’s perhaps now one in a hundred chance that Sainsburys will actually build a supermarket in Whittlesey. After all that going on, the fight between Tescos, Supermarketgate, all the money that’s been spent on planning and appeals and everything. What a waste. We’ve asked Sainsburys this morning to confirm whether or not the project will definitely go ahead. They have promised to get back to us by 12 with an answer.
BEN STEVENSON: I have had a reply Paul Stainton from Sainsburys. .. I’ve spoken to Sainsburys today. They have come back to me saying,”We then had to submit a fresh planning application, as it was not possible to divert the access route to provide safe entrance to the proposed store.” I have been told that they wanted to change the planning permission Paul to allow unsociable hours deliveries.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. I think John Elworthy touched on that.
BEN STEVENSON: Indeed. So it’s now been approved by Fenland District Council apparently, but they can’t “undertake any significant development until the detailed design of the new access route and resulting changes to Eastrea Road have been agreed with Cambridgeshire County Council.” The final line though Paul is where all the information you will probably need, and it’s not positive unfortunately for the people of Whittlesey. “We are continuing to work on this issue, but we can confirm that Whittlesey is not one of the stores we will be delivering in 2016/2017.” So that’s pretty much confirmation Paul that it will not be open by April 2017.
PAUL STAINTON: So at no time in the next two years is Whittlesey getting a Sainsburys supermarket.